Since the beginning of this year, VC4A has been teaming up with Anza Entrepreneurs and FMO’s Ventures Program to help strengthen the startup ecosystem in Tanzania. One of the people we’re working with through Anza’s Investment Readiness Program isLillian Secelela Madeje, the founder ofNiajiri, which means “hire me” in Swahili.
Niajiri platform is a workforce development tool that provides a transparent and streamlined process to find and recruit top talent for employers, while for entry-level talents on the labor market it provides access to income generating opportunities through a gamified integrated online learning management system for employability upskilling. Beyond the platform, Niajiri offers hybrid training and collaborates with partners such as Tanzania Institute of Bankers to provide employability skills bootcamp and development partners such as Youth Voices for entrepreneurship skills bootcamps.
The idea for Niajiri was born in 2017, when Lillian was tasked to come up with a capstone project for her MBA program at African Leadership School of Business. She was looking to tackle the bulging unemployability gap, having witnessed the funnel system of graduate programs and her solution was providing feedback and access to courses to graduates so they can better position themselves on the labor market. In 2018, she piloted Niajiri with Coca Cola Kwanza Company where over 1,000 CVs were assessed and graduates received integrated feedback and access to tools to boost their CVs and cover letters.
Getting a grip on the business model
Over the years, the number of talents and companies using the platform has steadily grown. Corporate clients started using Niajiri which gave the company great exposure, and provided a good source of income. At the same time it took a lot of effort to get these clients in and deliver the work, which diverted attention and resources away from building the other parts of the business. Also, partly because of this, most users still see Niajiri only as a job platform. Finally, building the platform, getting the applicant tracking and the learning management right, was an intensive journey.
“We need to communicate that there are many opportunities for upskilling on the platform. We’re starting a digital media campaign, we’ve built a network of Niajiri ambassadors that work on activation, and in June we went live with a subscription model, where talents can now access a free or paid subscription to additional services such as courses and online coaching.”
Next to the positioning, the company is working to diversify the employer client base by attracting more clients in the SME segment through its software as a service (SaaS) model which will go live during the last quarter of 2022. Lillian realized that building out a platform business and working on employability upskilling while also offering “traditional” recruitment services didn’t necessarily work out well.
“My passion is to get youth employed, but at the same time you cannot eat passion. I had to start thinking about the commercial sustainability of my business.”
A big brother to support
With 2022 being the year for reflection and pivoting for Niajiri, Lillian decided to apply for Anza’s Investment Readiness Program and got selected. The program helped to figure out the business model, to grow as a business founder and to double down on the company metrics and get the numbers right. “It was almost like we had a big brother. We have a great board of advisors that advise on our strategy, but the last three months with Anza really felt like having a big brother that helped us get our story right.” The fact that Lillian was part of a larger group of Anza entrepreneurs enabled her to learn from their experiences and to reflect on the questions they asked her.
Among the many learnings Lillian gathered from the Anza program, two things stood out. Firstly, the program helped her to get her growth metrics straight, and have a stronger grip on the finances of her business. The program helped her to better understand the revenue streams and to be really clear on where the money is coming from and how that can be used to finance the further development of the Niajiri platform. This has also made Lillian more confident about her business:
I am in touch with an angel investor who has been interested in Niajiri for the past year. I was cautious of making the talks with him concrete and securing the funding as I was still tinkering with the business model. I reignited that conversation this summer as I now feel more confident about our numbers.
Secondly, the program allowed her to reflect on her own position as founder and CEO. From this, she learned how to better delegate and be less involved in day-to-day activities. Now she can fully concentrate on her CEO position and role: getting investors in, building out partnerships and further working on Niajiri’s long-term strategy. Lillian also learned to look more objectively at decision making, and as a person, to take a “professional distance” and not be too personally involved. “As a founder, at the end of the month, you feel responsible for your employees. If you have not hit the numbers, you take it out of your own resources. During one eye opening session with the Anza team, it was reiterated that “it’s a company, stop looking at it as if it is you.” Lillian was looking to hire a sales manager but wasn’t sure about the financial implications. After the program, she was able to look at the situation more objectively, and make an informed decision to hire.
Niajiri’s mission to provide Tanzania’s young graduates with employment opportunities has so far led to close to 23,000 registered users and over 6,000 active users in a month. 350 of them have taken active part in (hybrid) upskilling activities and 150 of them were matched with a job through the platform. For the future, the ambitions are high: by the end of 2025, the company wants to grow the number of active users on the platform to 70,000 and realize 500 job placements for them per year.